Kolbe Special School in Portlaoise, on a waiting list for a new building.
The Department of Education must carry out a comprehensive review of temporary accommodation in schools after it spent more than €56million on such facilities in Laois and other counties in just two years, said Laois Offaly TD Brian Stanley.
He was commenting on the outcome of a new report by the Public Accounts Committee which calls for greater oversight in the Department of Education on the spending money on various parts of the education system.
Dep Stanley is Chair of the Public Accounts Committee which published the report which instructs the Deparment to do much more to ensure that the taxpayer is protected during the process of urgent procurement contracts.
Prefabs were among the issues highlighted in the report called Examination of the 2018 and 2019 Appropriation Accounts for Vote 26 – Education and Skills. The Committee questioned whether temporary accommodation arrangements for schools are providing value-for-money to the State.
"Expenditure on temporary school accommodation in 2018 was €26.2 million and this increased to €29.5 million in 2019.
The Committee noted that the longest arrangement for temporary school accommodation dated back to March 2000," said the report.
The Committee acknowledged the statement from the Department that the schoolgoing population has increased nationally over the last decade and this has increased the need for school accommodation. However, it said that accurate forecasting of school places is essential to meeting the demand for school places.
The Committee was informed by the Department that it views temporary accommodation arrangements as interim measures to provide school spaces and that it has increased its spend on capital projects to address the use of temporary accommodation arrangements.
"However, the Committee remains concerned that the Department continues to heavily rely on temporary accommodation arrangements and is of the opinion that agreements that date back up to 20 years cannot be classified as interim measures," it said.
The report recommended that the Department review all temporary accommodation agreements for schools that have been in operation for more than five years.
The Committee also recommends that the Department of Education places significant attention on the need for a full-time clerk of works or other suitably qualified people to be on-site during all large construction projects and that regular inspection of all other projects takes place. The report said the failure to do so previously does not represent good oversight and has left taxpayers exposed to additional costs.
The report originates from a meeting with the Department of Education in October 2020 following a procurement process on the calculated grades system and the Leaving Certificate. In its report, the Committee recommends that stronger safeguards are put in place to minimise risk and deliver high standards during an accelerated procurement process.
The report also covers Caranua and calls for the Department of Education to work with the survivor organisation to learn lessons for future redress schemes.
Dep Stanley spoke after the report was launched on February 12.
“It is the job of the Public Accounts Committee to ensure that the taxpayer receives value for money.
“To achieve this objective, we need to ensure that departments engage in high standards of risk management and oversight during the procurement process.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has, of course, presented departments with significant obstacles to planning ahead and it has sprung many new and unexpected demands upon public expenditure.
“However, it is essential that we deal with these urgent matters in a way in the taxpayer is protected and risk is minimised.
“The Committee's report has recommended that the Department of Education strive for the highest standards of oversight possible with regards to the procurement process and that liaise with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to ensure that the risk to taxpayers is minimised on each occasion.
“Our report also covers the wind-down of Caranua and the role of the Department. We are still awaiting legislation from the Department which will dissolve the organisation and we want to see a timeline presented to the Committee for that process.
“We also want to ensure that there are on-going supports established for survivors once Caranua is dissolved and that the Department engages with the organisation to learn from its experience to incorporate minimise risk findings into future redress schemes.
“Finally, the Committee has called on the Department of Education to carry out a comprehensive review by the end of this year of temporary accommodation in schools after it spent more than €56million on such facilities in two years. This raises very serious questions around value for money,” said the Sinn Féin TD.
Link to report here